Monday, September 29, 2008

Career Advice: Tap into Other People's Wisdom

Todd DeFren's PR Squared blog post of September 29th begins this way:

The older I get, the more I care about the young folks’ career development. This may stem from having teenage children; I worry about their preparation for Life, Careers, Happiness. Thus I happily offer college students and new graduates some hard-won (and so-called) wisdom, whenever they ask.

Here’s what a lot of today’s college graduates don’t understand: I am not alone. I am not the only company executive/business owner who’s eager to lend a hand, an ear, or an opinion. Yet, it’s pretty rare for a college graduate considering a PR career to reach out to me for some counsel, or just to grab a coffee.

Read the rest of this blog post at There's valuable advice regardless of what career path interests you.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Standardized Tests: Probably Not Anyone’s Idea of a Good Time

I was speaking to a mother in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, today whose daughter took the standardized college admission test the ACT rather than the SAT. The mother spoke about the strategy for whether to guess on questions.

This is not my expertise, but it did remind me that it’s important to know the parameters of any standardized test you take for college admission or graduate school admission. In some tests, points are subtracted for wrong answers; in others, there are no points subtracted for wrong answers. You need to know which method is used in the test you will take so that you can better consider your options on questions for which you don’t know the answers.

If you are unable to take any preparation classes for standardized admission tests, try to at least read a current study guide for that test to help you know which strategies to use. Your local library as well as local bookstore should have books on standardized tests. Just be sure to check that you get the latest edition in order to have the most accurate information.

Of course, you may be able to find study help online. Just be sure it is legitimate help and, again, current information.

Perhaps the best additional advice – get a good night’s sleep before the test and eat a healthy breakfast. Make sure your brain has the energy to do what needs to be done.

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Business Schools Are Stepping Up to the Plate for Wall Street Alum

The September 23rd Wall Street Journal article “Business Schools Gird for Wall Street Woes” by Alina Dizik described various actions being taken by business schools to help alum hit by the Wall Street crisis as well as current students planning a career on Wall Street.

If you have been affected by the Wall Street crisis, check with the careers services office at your alma mater to see if special services have been added to help people in your situation.

In addition, according to the article:

Career office staff members are also trying to steer undergrads to alternative careers. Patricia Rose, director of career services at the University of Pennsylvania, deals with undergraduate business school students along with students in other majors. Typically, Wharton sends about 50% of its undergraduates into investment banking. Ms. Rose says she’s recommending Wharton students look into technology or public service jobs, which are more plentiful than coveted finance jobs.

In accordance with the FLIPPING BURGERS philosophy of following your passion – and being willing to find a new passion if the first passion doesn’t work out, I think the accompanying article in the September 23rd Journal is more helpful: “Weighing a New Industry for a New Job Outlook” by Chandlee Bryan.

The article recommends thoroughly researching a possible new field. Here’s some good advice on research:

The recent turmoil at financial firms underscores the need to go beyond research on compensation and industry trends. Educate yourself on how a company or industry runs and pending legislation that may affect the employment outlook in a field. Review analyst reports, scour RSS feeds, and set up Google News Alerts by keyword once you’ve narrowed a field of interest.

This is excellent advice, and it should be coupled with using your network of friends and family to get the inside story. A few years ago I was hired at a web design firm just as it moved to swanky new quarters in downtown LA. Because I was in charge of the content of two major projects, I soon realized that there wasn’t enough work to keep everyone busy. Sure enough, in about two months several people, including myself, were let go.

Even if we had had the same level of internet news access then that we have now, this news wouldn’t have been public. It was only because I had my “boots on the ground” – to use a military expression – that I could see what was happening.

Whether you’re in high school, college or grad school now, talk to people in different careers to learn all you can about the vulnerabilities as well as the opportunities in that field. Keep the information you learned in an organized fashion in order to make reasonable comparisons. And make sure you date the info so you know how “fresh” it is when you later make comparisons.

And remember that you can make your own opportunities if you identify a need that isn’t being fulfilled at a company or in an industry. The responsibility is on you to learn as much as you can and then use that knowledge for your own advantage.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Chicago Tribune Checks in Locally About High School Students and Facebook

The Chicago Tribune published its own version of the story of college admissions officers looking at student profiles on Facebook by checking in with local colleges and local high school students. (See

While there were the usual warnings about college admissions officers seeing things you probably don't want them to see, I found the following paragraph very interesting (and perhaps more so because my niece and two nephews graduated from New Trier):

Ethan Goldsmith, a senior, said he, too, already was exercising caution because New Trier Township High School has suspended students from sports teams for brandishing a beer in photos online.

Now here's a new online warning that I haven't blogged about yet. Your own high school could take action based on an inappropriate online photo of you.

It would be a good idea to pay attention to all these warnings. And make it clear to your friends that you do NOT want them to post inappropriate photos of you online or put in their Facebook status, for example, "John is watching his friend Martin throw up after chugging 10 beers."

Protect your own reputation.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

High School Students Feeling Overwhelmed: Not an Unusual Feeling

Today I met a woman whose daughter is in 9th grade in a very academic private high school. Only a few weeks into the school year the daughter is feeling overwhelmed. This is not an unusual feeling for high-achieving students because the pressure today to do well and “beat the competition” is intense.

Yet, as I have written about before, the FLIPPING BURGERS philosophy is somewhat different than the “get the highest grades and highest test scores” philosophy for getting into top colleges.

The FLIPPING BURGERS philosophy says that you should follow your passion in high school. This means trying to arrange a challenging but not overwhelming school schedule so that you have time to follow your passion outside of school.

And the advantage of following your passion outside school is that you will have to pursue activities that are not handed to you on a silver platter (the school’s own activities). Why, for example, join the high school drama club when you can join a local theater group near your home? In this way you will demonstrate initiative to the colleges to which you apply and your experience may be richer for having to learn how to “work” (act) around adults of various ages.

If you are overwhelmed already and this is still September, consider whether you may be able to re-adjust your school schedule so that you have more time to pursue your passion and still take academically challenging (but not overwhelming) courses.

For example, this re-adjustment may mean saving physics until summer school where you can really focus on this subject and, in place of this course during the school year, take a less-strenuous one that will give you more free time after school.

For advice on planning the rest of your high school schedule, you can check out the report THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS YOU SHOULD DO AND KNOW TO GET AHEAD OF THE GAME OF COLLEGE APPLICATIONS at

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Monday, September 22, 2008

College Tutoring Help: Not a Stigma to Take Advantage of This Free Service

A friend of mine gave good advice to her daughter starting graduate school in a difficult subject area:

“Your school has free tutoring on any subject. Don’t wait until you fall behind. After you’re done on the first day of classes, go over to the tutoring center and review the material with a tutor. THIS IS NOT A STIGMA!”

I’m not sure why most people believe that getting help implies weakness rather than indicating strength. It is actually a much better plan for life to recognize when free services can strengthen your position and to take advantage of this available opportunity.

Each person learns in a different way, yet repetition of new material can probably help everyone. And, if you’re going over new material with a tutor, you might discover that you misunderstood something that, if not corrected, could set you off in a major wrong direction. Thus, by reviewing new material with a tutor, you can quickly discover where you’re about to go off track.

If your school offers such services and these services could be of help to you, do not refuse to go because you’re afraid this would make you look dumb. Instead, getting help makes you look smart – smart to take advantage of any help you can in order to make sure you’re on the right track.

And this advice is equally good for high school students at high schools with tutoring centers and for students at colleges and graduate schools with tutoring centers. If there’s help to be had, grab it and make the most of it.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Beware of Facebook: The Wall Street Journal Agrees With Me

I know some of my regular readers of this blog are groaning because I’m about to talk about Facebook AGAIN. Go ahead and groan now – then read on, because there’s a dangerous sand trap that had never occurred to me.

The September 18th Wall Street Journal article “College Applicants, Beware: Your Facebook Page Is Showing” by John Hechinger reporteded:

A new survey of 500 top colleges found that 10% of admissions officers acknowledged looking at social-networking sites to evaluate applicants. Of those colleges making use of the online information, 38% said that what they say “negatively affected” their views of the applicant. Only a quarter of the schools checking the sites said their views were improved, according to the survey by education company Kaplan, a unit of Washington Post Co.” (Boldface mine.)

What I found particularly upsetting in the Journal article is that college admission officers sometimes receive anonymous tips to check out someone’s Facebook page. Apparently these tips may be from rival applicants.

After reading about this particular sand trap, I visualized a scenario where two top students from the same high school are applying to the same prestigious college. One student calls in a tip about the other student’s inappropriate Facebook page in order to get that student eliminated from consideration.

All I can say is that you can’t stop some people from being underhanded, so the only way you can assure that there’s no dirt for someone to find on you is to make sure there’s no dirt PERIOD.

If you have any questions as to what is appropriate on your Facebook page, check out past posts of mine under the category Facebook. And if you’d like a free copy of the “7 Mistakes to Avoid to Protect Your Image on Facebook,” go to

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Facebook and Other Social Media Platforms: Changing the Use of Email and Privacy Concerns

As those of you who are regular readers of this blog know, I often post about the need to be very careful of what you put on your Facebook profile page. I harp on this subject because Facebook is being used more and more for business purposes. And you never know who might see your profile on Facebook – for example, a college admissions officer of a college to which you plan to apply or a human resources recruiter at a company to which you plan to apply.

And today – because of a question sent out by the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA) as part of a blog carnival (bloggers invited to write blogs on the topic and then submit their blog posts to MIMA) – I realized that all my harping about your Facebook profile isn’t enough.

Here’s the MIMA question: “Will Facebook, MySpace, and SMS marginalize the role of email in communication between friends, family, and people?” (According to Wikipedia, “Short Message Service – SMS – is a communications protocol allowing the interchange of short text messages between mobile telephone devices.”)

I absolutely believe that Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms will dramatically decrease the use of email. Already I’m much more likely to send a DM (direct message and therefore private) to someone on Twitter rather than email the same person. I know the person will very likely read the tweet before reading the email. Or I’ll send a public tweet telling the person I’ve just sent an email.

What’s the connection between my opinion on this MIMA topic and advice for college applications, internships, jobs and careers? The decrease of email accompanied by the increase of social media communication indicates an increased need to be very careful, for example, what comments you put on people’s walls on Facebook or what you post on a Facebook group discussion board.

Replacing email or text messaging with comments on Facebook and other social media platforms can come back to haunt you if you’re not always thinking with a third eye of the long-term effects of what you’re publicly writing rather than sending in a private email.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

College Application Planning Report Addresses Concerns of 9th Graders and Their Parents and Mentors

At an 80th birthday party I talked to the mother of a 9th-grade boy who I have known since his birth.

The mother was worried because she and her husband both came to the U.S. from different countries as adults. “I don’t know how the American college system works,” the mother said, “and my son is a really good student and interested in going to Harvard. A family friend said he should take the French horn but he’s not interested in playing a musical instrument.”

Although the boy is not interested in a musical instrument, the advice about the French horn probably comes from the philosophy of being a well-rounded student when applying to college. Yet the theory now is that colleges want a “well-rounded” freshman class – each individual student with his or her particular interests adds to an overall mix of diverse students.

In other words, colleges are looking for “well-lopsided” students whose passions can contribute to a dynamic college campus life. And this current philosophy fits in nicely with my FLIPPING BURGERS AND BEYOND philosophy of helping a high school student to follow his or her passion.

And this is why it is important to start planning a student’s time during high school before he or she starts high school. There are so many demands on a student’s time that it makes sense to plan ahead for fulfilling college entrance requirements and for following a passion.

I’ve just written a special college application planning report called THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW AND DO TO BE AHEAD OF THE GAME OF COLLEGE APPLICATIONS.

If you know of any 8th or 9th graders or their parents and mentors for whom this advice could be helpful, tell them about this report. You may earn their undying thanks if you save them major aggravation and hassles when the student is in 11th or 12th grade.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Email Deluge: How Helping Someone Get Out From Under Could Further Your Career

A friend of mine who is a medical doctor at a large university told me that she gets so many emails a day – close to 200 – that she can’t keep up with them. And that sometimes she misses deadlines for important grant projects because of the magnitude of keeping track of all the emails she does open.

I explained to her that many professionals are now using a VA (virtual assistant) to check their emails and keep track of such things as which emails needed responses and which didn’t need to be followed up. Then I realized that she couldn’t use just any VA. She needed to use someone who could understand the scientific and medical discussions in her emails.

And that’s when I got the idea for a way to help an undergraduate student at the large university and help my friend. If she got a student majoring in pre-med or science to be her VA for her emails, the student would be able to understand the content and also learn just be reading the emails. This would be great for the student to put on her/his resume and great for my friend.

Then I realized that there must be many, many professionals who are overwhelmed with their email inbox. And, therefore, an enterprising student with an interest in a specific area could approach professionals in that area about being a VA. Of course, the student would have to understand the need for confidentiality of everything he/she reads. But this is the same as for any VA.

If you’re looking for a way to demonstrate a passion of yours and, at the same time, learn more about that passion, look around for a professional whom you could help get out from under the email deluge. This could be a win-win for both of you.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Interview Techniques: The Words Out of Your Mouth Can Lose the Job for You

Yesterday I put a blog post on that began this way after the headline “Using Appropriate Language During a College Application Interview”:

The three words “like” and “you know” (along with the annoying “um” and “well”) used liberally throughout your conversations may not bother your friends. Yet be assured that a person interviewing you will note the immature and/or annoying language. Other words that bother interviewers include dude, hey, stuff, whatever. And, of course, you should use proper English and not street or slang or colloquial English.

In an email exchange with one of the CollegeFinder people this is what I received:

That post also applies well to interviews! You wouldn’t believe how many just out of college students we interview here who use the words or worse!

Okay, now you’ve heard this warning directly from the mouth of an employer (as opposed to my harping on this subject). And if you take these words to heart, you could have a giant advantage over other job candidates.

If you’re not aware of how you speak (whether you continually use the words “like” and “you know” and whether you use slang), record yourself practicing an interview with a friend. Then listen to the recording.

If the above warning applies to you, take two immediate steps to correct these problems. First, try consciously even when speaking to friends to use proper English and NOT to constantly use the words “like” and “you know.”

Second, practice answering interview questions with a friend over and over again until you eliminate the problems. Record each practice interview to check your own progress.

Any questions about what might or might not be appropriate to say? Leave questions in the comments section below.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Preparing for College Applications: Tips on High School Activities

· Do not undertake so much that your grades suffer. Colleges want to see good grades AND additional activities, which can include part-time jobs.

· Do not change activities as frequently as you change your socks. Colleges do want to see some consistency over your years of high school. Trying out a different school club each year (math club, government club, etc.) is probably not as good as sticking to one school club for the four years.

· Do not participate in the “activity marathon,” in which you compete with your classmates to see who can compile the longest list of extracurricular activities. The high school years are a time for you to pursue possible passions. To realistically evaluate the “trying on” of a possible passion, you must go deeper rather than wider in your overall activities.

· Do choose with your heart and soul. That is, truly select activities that both interest you and to which you can contribute in a meaningful way (not just by showing up and sleeping through a guest speaker).

To read the rest of this post, go to College Finder at

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Clearly Written Communication: Make Sure the Other Person Knows What You Mean

A college sophomore I know needed to replace all the cell phone numbers he had stored in his own cell phone. So he did what I think was rather clever. He created an event page on Facebook to request that his friends send him their cell phone numbers.

Only there was one tiny problem. He gave the event a weird name – something with letters and symbols that was way beyond my understanding – and didn’t clearly explain what the event was for. After he got several puzzled replies besides mine, he realized that he hadn’t clearly stated the purpose of his event.

I’m bringing this up here as an example of something we all do at one time or another: assume that another person can follow what we mean because it is so clear to us what is needed. What we all need to remember is that another person doesn’t necessarily have all the prior information that we have.

Whatever you write for other people to read must be clear. You need to put yourself in the other person’s place to figure out what he/she needs to know to understand what you’re talking about.

This is true whether you’re writing a college application essay or a memo to your boss about a topic the boss asked you to research or a query letter asking for an informational meeting.

When I was feature editor of the State News at Michigan State University, a reporter on my feature staff said to me, “Phyllis, you know what I mean in this news story.” And I replied, “Yes, I know. But the student who reads this article in tomorrow’s paper may not. You have to write this so that student who doesn’t know what I know can understand what you’re saying.”

The next time you write someone – or create an event on Facebook – make sure that what you’ve said is clear to anyone who does not know the background information that you do. Give the other person enough information so that he/she can follow what it is you’re saying.

If you always keep the point of view of the other person in mind when writing, you’ll be able to earn a reputation as someone who is a good writer and able to communicate well with others. This is a good reputation to have even in the age of IMing and Twitter.

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Friday, September 5, 2008

First Jobs: They Can Be Your Entry Door Into Success

Harvey Mackay always includes Mackay’s Moral at the end of his weekly column. And his morals are always good. Yet his moral this week really spoke to what I believe:

Mackay’s Moral: What you learn on your first job will last through your last job.

If you pay attention to what goes on around you even if you have the most menial job in the company or organization, you can learn a great deal. There are all kinds of “lessons” being unconsciously taught.

Mackay describes a job he had as a teen working at a men’s retail store. One of the things his boss taught was: “Walk the customer to the front door and sometimes even out onto the street and look him in the eye and say “Thanks!’”

Less than two hours after I read this piece of advice I was walked to the door by the receptionist of a local restaurant at which I often eat. Because I had just read Mackay’s column, I took special notice of this courtesy on the part of the receptionist.

Now even if you were a busboy at this restaurant, if you had observed the receptionist’s behavior you would have learned a valuable lesson for life: Do not treat your customers or clients as if they are interchangeable commodities. Instead make each one feel that he or she is special in your eyes.

If you act this way towards customers and clients even when you have a menial job, you might be surprised to learn that your advancement is more rapid than others who don’t act this way.

Keep your eyes and ears paying attention no matter where you are – you can learn from almost anyone and anything.

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

College Applications: To Interview or Not to Interview Is the Question

It’s fall now, and with fall each year comes the beginning of the college application frenzy. This is the time when parents, teachers or mentors harass students to get going on filling out those college applications.

If you’re one of these students preparing to apply to college, keep in mind that there are many different aspects to a college application, and each aspect has to be carefully considered. One such aspect is the question about having an interview with a representative from the college to which you’re applying.

And here’s the problem with this aspect: colleges have their own individual polices for interviewing applicants, which can become quite confusing if you’re applying to several schools. Here are examples of the range in policies:

  • A college does not interview any applicant on campus but requires an applicant interview with an alum of the college in the applicant’s home town.

  • A college offers interviews to any applicant who comes to campus but does not require an applicant interview with an alum in the applicant’s home town.

  • A college gives on-campus interviews only to students who are legacies of that college (the student’s parent or grandparent attended the college).

  • A college does not give interviews to applicants on campus or in their home towns.

Your first step is to find out the interview policy of each college to which you plan to apply. It might be a good idea to create a spreadsheet so that you can keep straight all the different policies. And then, of course, you have to follow the policy of each college.

(The slots for on-campus interviews at schools fill up. Schedule your interview early so you don’t lose out on this opportunity.)

Recommendation: Even if an alum interview isn’t required but is offered as an option, you should say yes to the interview because this shows a more sincere interest in that school on your part.

And who knows? What you learn in an alum interview may give you valuable information with which to evaluate that potential college application choice.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Back to School: What Did You Learn Today?

Whether this month sees you back in school (high school or college or graduate school) or out on the job market, the fall season signals “back to school” thoughts conditioned by all those fall seasons of new school years.

And it is a good idea to connect the fall season with learning something new – something that isn’t required by your coursework or job work. Just something new that you’re interested in knowing more about.

This something new can be reading information to understand the weather conditions that create hurricanes (due to the nation’s focus on New Orleans this past weekend) or following online instructions for how to create mobiles out of wire hangars.

The point is not WHAT you learn as long as you learn something NEW, something that stretches your mind in a direction it hasn’t gone before. And this new something gives you a new conversation topic when you get together with other people. Suddenly you’re discussing the underpinnings of Category 5 hurricanes with the other weather fanatics. Or you’re pointing out to a new friend that there’s something very soothing about bending wire hangars into new shapes.

If you’re not sure now what new subject area you’d like to learn, keep your eyes open as you go about your regular routines. See if something new doesn’t pop out at you from the most unlikely place after you’ve told your mind to be on the look-out for just such an opportunity.

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